Tiras Buck – This is the perspective of a still slightly hooked man-child who (barely) survived the toy availability deluge of the 1980s.
I’m just going to say it (and hurled tomatoes or thumb-typed comments be damned): Gen X had better toys, which contributed to our superior imaginations.
Don’t believe me? Then let’s take a walk, metaphorically, through situations that support my assertions.
Have you ever successfully activated mission-specific members of the G.I. JOE team to defeat the forces of COBRA (a snake-themed, surprisingly well-funded terrorist organization determined to rule the world)?
Perhaps you fought alongside He-Man (and several more ridiculously muscled heroes) to defend Castle Grayskull against Skeletor, Beast Man, and other horrible villains born of dark magic, blasphemous mutation, or terrifying, tooth-filled future-tech.
No experience with the above? Well, I’m SURE you helped Optimus Prime and the Autobots protect Earth (and Cybertron) from a more destructive faction of giant, transforming robots – the despicable Decepticons. I mean, the Autobots are always searching for human recruits, and joining them lowers your chances of being peeled, lifelessly, from the soles of sizable robot boots.
Wait. Seriously? You NEVER experienced ANY of these conflicts (or wielded the accompanying toy lines to craft epic adventures in molded, small-scale plastic)? Then you, dear reader, are seriously deprived – of the imagination-building toy lines, and the enviable Gen X play experience.
That’s right – Gen X had better toys and thus more opportunities to seriously flex our imagination.
What do ten-year-old boys play with now? Maybe the occasional Marvel action figure. And LEGOS are still a thing (thankfully). But mostly, they want smartphones. And they want a Playstation/Xbox/whatever currently plays Fortnite. Ultimately, they want screens with virtual interaction – a type of play occurring through prebuilt worlds with controller-activated protagonists.
What did Gen X kids play with? Posable, in-hand action figures and entire toy lines propelled by captivating and never ending stories. And these stories came with the toys themselves (i.e., box art), after-school cartoons, and accompanying monthly comics.
But play wasn’t necessarily tied to these stories. You see, with handheld figures, vehicles, and playsets, one could embark on any imagined adventure, in any imagined environment. A handpicked G.I. JOE squad could be whisked away at some ungodly hour to protect a secret military base (i.e., the swing set). And He-Man? He could find himself body-slamming Mer-Man in the murky depths of Eternia’s occasionally ominous oceans (i.e., a hastily filled kiddie pool).
And who positioned those figures to pummel, strike, and spin-kick with the grace of wind-cutting ninja? The same person generating sound effects for the above-mentioned actions – me (or you).
Ultimately, what Gen X kids lacked in technology, they (or rather, we) gained through imagination. We couldn’t walk digitally rendered characters through incredible simulated worlds, but we could imagine those worlds, and place our physical toys within them.
The act of playing was never dictated through game-specific missions, and never dependent on plugged in consoles. It was powered by us and accomplished through simple acts of in-hand interaction, and hands-free imagination.
And I suppose we needed imagination, since our parents suddenly became…selfish?
Okay, that sounds harsh, but Generation X also answers to the moniker “latchkey kids.” And by “selfish,” I mean a former stay-at-home parent found a job, and no longer had the pleasure of waiting for our post-school return. So, we carried a key, let ourselves in, and immediately indulged in neatly displayed (or erratically scattered) toys, including (but certainly not limited to) G.I. JOE, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, MASK, Star Wars, Playmobil, GoBots, Thundercats, Voltron, Silverhawks, and at least 50 more I can’t currently recall, but certainly tripped over.
Yes, we had time to kill, and our imagination – accompanied by amazing toys – was available to entertain us before Mom/Dad returned, started dinner, and asked to see our homework.
Growing up in the ’80s, and being the target market for dozens of amazing toy lines, wasn’t a terrible thing.
Yes, my parents certainly suffered, but I was quite happy to accept every conceivable advertisement. In fact, many of the same toy lines are active today, and purposely marketed to adult collectors (“kidults”). On occasion, I may still succumb to the nostalgic pre-teen wonder, and giddily click “add to cart.”
Tiras Buck would immediately (like, without hesitation) forsake Earth and join Optimus Prime in a last-ditch effort to emancipate Cybertron? That’s right – Tiras. An experienced geek-culture pundit, Tiras regularly consumes and reviews all manner of fantastical, fictional, and high-concept content. He also dreams of ending an eons-long war between two factions of intimidatingly tall transforming robots.